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Employee options when dealing with COVID-19

Justice Scales and books and wooden gavel
Posted at 2:49 PM, Dec 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-30 21:03:47-05

Contracting the coronavirus can have some major lasting effects on someone’s health and work life, especially when that person is the head of household.

Now imagine testing positive for the virus twice.

“It's really stressful. There’s so much uncertainty. You feel stressed because you don’t feel well and you don’t like missing work,” said Silvia Bueno, a housekeeper who tested positive to COVID-19 twice.

Bueno says she stopped working and quarantined for two weeks after contracting the virus. She says she was getting ready to return to work when she tested positive again.

But, aside from getting better, Bueno worried about not having a paycheck and not having any more sick or vacation time left to quarantine again.

“A lot of times we don’t know what to do. We don’t have any information about any rights when it comes to paid leave and COVID,” expressed Bueno.

What options do workers have when facing a situation like Mrs. Bueno?

“Depending on your employer, there’s no mandate to provide you with any other sort of leave other than paid sick time. You do have additional time under the emergency Family Medical Leave Act, you have time to take off, but it doesn’t mandate for you to get paid,” stated employment lawyer Alejandro Perez.

Another option is the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which allows some employees to take paid leave due to different coronavirus reasons, such as school closures.

“That was mandatory, that was an obligation if the employee and the employer qualified because it was for employers under 500 employees. If they both qualified, employers would get a reimbursement and mom or dad would get to stay home with the children due to schooling issues,” stated lawyer Daniel Ortega.

The program was set to expire on December 31, but Ortega says there’s hope with a recent extension.

“Congress most recently extended the program until the end of March given the rise in COVID-19 cases,” said Ortega.

He says the difference with this extension is that employers are no longer required to offer it. "It’s just basically voluntarily on behalf of employers to give parents paid leave."

Through this program the government refunds the employers, but Ortega says now it’s optional.

“Now you go to the employer and be like, ‘I think I qualify for this; can you check it out?’ he can say ‘first of all I’m not going to allow you to take paid leave,’ and he has the right to do so. Or the employer can be like ‘look I can get reimbursed if we both qualify and help both of us.’"

With 2021 just around the corner, Bueno’s only wish is to not catch the virus again and hopes we all do our part by staying home.